Half Moon Theatre Company

Scope and Content

The collection consists of member lists and registers; correspondence, notes and publications relating to the building of the new theatre; financial papers relating to loans; financial papers concerning various productions; legal papers relating to the lease of land; applications to the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Greater London Council for funding, including annual reports and accounts; papers and publicity material relating to productions; scripts; programmes and posters for plays; material concerned with the Women's festival of June 1986; publications about fringe theatres and the East End of London; photographs of productions and cast; and press cuttings.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Half Moon Theatre Company was formed in 1972 when two unemployed actors rented a deserted synagogue in Aldgate, East London, as a cheap place to live and produce plays. The name of the company came from a nearby alley, The Half Moon Passage. The founders, Mike Irving and Maurice Colbourne, and the artistic director, Guy Sprung, wanted to create a rehearsal space with living accommodation, inspired by the sixties alternative society.

The company had its first success with the production of Brecht's "In the Jungle of Cities" in 1972. This was followed by the company taking part in the E1 festival in 1973, which attracted local writers and actors. In 1975 the company set up a Management Council and began receiving an Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB) subsidy. They also took the decision to form a youth project that became known as the Half Moon Young People's Theatre. By the late 1970s the success of the Half Moon Theatre Company meant that the original site, seating only 80 people, was far too small.

In 1979 a disused chapel that could seat 200 was discovered in Mile End Road. During 1979 it was decided that the chapel was also too small for the audience that the company was attracting. The Architect Bureau was commissioned to do a feasibility study on the construction of a new theatre on a site adjacent to the chapel. The main architect, Florian Beigel, designed a theatre in which there was no fixed seating, thereby allowing plays to be staged in many forms. Robert Walker, the artistic director, was very specific about the purpose and nature of the theatre. He wanted a space in which all members of a community, from primary school children to pensioners, could exhibit work, meet and visit. By the end of 1981 planning permission had been granted and in 1982 the contract was put out to tender. Construction work finally began in 1983 and by 1984 over £1,000,000 had been raised, with ACGB, Greater London Council (GLC), ILEA and Tower Hamlets Council as main sponsors. Chris Bond joined the company as artistic director and the theatre was handed over in December, with the opening production of "Sweeney Todd" in May 1985.

The Half Moon Theatre Company had put on a number of challenging international plays in the 1970s, including several premieres of Steven Berkoff's plays, American musicals and English premieres of works by Dario Fo and Franca Rame. However, by the mid 1980s the Half Moon theatre Company was beginning to lose its popularity. Problems arose with both the financial management and the artistic programme. In the late 1980s the company was using all of its grant form the Greater London Arts Association (GLA) to pay off building debts. This meant that the grant was halved in 1990, as it was not being used for its intended purpose of putting on plays. The theatre was unable to cope with this and closed down in June 1990. Government policy was that arts organisations should be self-supporting through ticket sales and bar takings. However, this went against what the Half Moon Theatre Company was trying to do. They wanted to provide political theatre to those who were on low disposable incomes, which meant keeping ticket prices down. The low income audience and strong political agenda, in turn meant that commercial sponsors were not interested in the theatre. The Half Moon Young People's Theatre remained intact as a separate company and is still performing.

Access Information

All records are open subject to the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. All records containing personal information about individuals are subject to the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998.

The archives service is open Wednesday to Friday with seasonal closures. Visits to view records are by prior appointment only. More information can be found on our website www.royalholloway.ac.uk/archives

Other Finding Aids

The full catalogue is available via our website: www.royalholloway.ac.uk/archives

Conditions Governing Use

Copies, subject to the condition of the original, may be supplied for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the College Archivist.


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